What redesigning our agency’s website taught us about designing websites for our clients.

My company, Proof, is entering into its sixth year. Every couple years, we decide it’s about that time to keep up with the trends and to look within to how we’re presenting ourselves to potential clients and our community. Being in the business of creating brands and designing websites for others makes us hyper-focused and, admittedly, overly critical of our own. This week, we launched the fourth iteration of the Proof website. It’s without a doubt our best yet and was a labor of love that took nearly a year of planning, brainstorming, designing, developing, and testing to complete.

Through the process we learned a ton about ourselves — and our internal process taught us a lot about going through the creative process with our clients. We re-learned the value of pushback, feedback, research, and patience. And yes, that the process always goes down smoother with good coffee and cold beer.

I wanted to share some of those “lessons” learned through the process of re-launching the Proof site — lessons that we apply and will continue to apply to our client work, and lessons maybe you’ll apply yourself as you think about the next iteration of whatever it is you do…

  1. It is (really) hard to articulate your vision. → And it (really) helps to have other people pull those ideas out when you can’t quite find the right words to say. Even as a team of creative professionals, it is pretty damn hard to tell someone else what you like/dislike, what works well, and what you’re struggling with. Examples help, but also, simply having a conversation and not being afraid to sound stupid goes a long, long way. No idea is a bad idea, and it’s better to just come out with it than to hold back from fear of sounding like an idiot or offending the person on the other side of the table.
  2. Steal like an artist (aka take a look at what other people are doing). → To take a page out of Austin Kleon’s wisdom on creativity, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” No one is truly being 100% innovative in the world of web design. Spend enough time poking around and you’ll start to see some patterns and systems. Those patterns and systems are there for a reason. They exist because they work. Sure, they’re constantly changing and evolving, but creativity is not synonymous with innovation — rather, with iteration. We love what some of the other players in our space are doing — firms like Grain & Mortar, Matchstic, BASIC, Focus Lab, Brave People, and Humaan, to name a few. Each of these examples represent firms that are constantly iterating and looking to make things better. They are excellent at what they do. We took the best of what these, and many others, are doing and put that through our unique lens.
  3. Listen. → It may be obvious, even cliche, to talk about the importance of listening. But I can’t understate how hugely important it is to hear each other out and to build, not break down, ideas. Operate from an opportunity mindset — one that is always focused on making it better.
  4. It’s not all about how it looks. → We are constantly educating our clients on the value of what happens behind the scenes — brand messaging, language, positioning, and tone. The things you may not really see, but that you absolutely experience and that really matter. Form and function, style and substance, are both critical to the success of any web project. Yes, people will judge a book by its cover, so the cover needs to look good — but more importantly, everything needs to work (really) well. I spent many (many) mornings and evenings chatting with Dave, our developer, about things like reducing load times, optimizing images, and responsive efficiency. Design sacrifices were made where they needed to be made. Copy was consolidated to eliminate the “fluff”. The final product is something that’s beautiful both inside and out.
  5. Be ok with “complete”. → As the kind of person that is a life-long tinkerer and has a really hard time being 100% satisfied, trust me when I say this: Sometimes, the project is, in fact, complete — and is great and wonderful and amazing and everything that it can and should be. You will paralyze the creative process, and yourself, if you never let it rest. “Perfect” is a endless pursuit that does not, I repeat, does not, have a final destination.

Everything we went through helped to re-set our perspective on how we partner with our clients. Going through this every couple years helps us to understand the challenges and exciting opportunities that come with the creative process. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to working on making it even better. (KIDDING!…sort of)